Tobacco21: Raising the Bar. Again.

Ah, the wonders of turning from a young adult into a full fledge adult. All those things that you’ve been chomping at the bit to try according to the word of law, rather than the law of common bloody sense are oh so tempting aren’t they? Drinking, smoking, gambling and all that. I wouldn’t class work as a wonder, and besides under 18’s can do that in a limited way so it doesn’t really count.

Why then are there so many differing descriptors for the age of an adult?

The legal definition of entering adulthood usually varies between ages 16–21, depending on the region in question. Some cultures in Africa define adult at age 13.


So there’s variety in the legal definition of being an adult, and that of course varies depending on where you live. There are some factors that “define” adulthood, two of the key ones are:

  • Being able to vote
  • Serving in a front-line military unit (not just being able to join the military)

However, if you work in the public health industry the definition of adult takes a decidedly skew-whiff turn. You see, in the UK you could legally buy and consume tobacco at the age of 16 (the lower denominator for the legal age of being an adult) up until October 2007. This changed to 18 which ties in with the minimum voting age. 18 is reasonable age definition for the crossover point from being a “youth” into becoming a full-fledged and responsible “adult”. October 2007 was of course when the public place smoking ban became law, based on hyperbole, ridiculously weak science but extravagant propaganda firmly embedding in the public consciousness that a wisp of tobacco smoke will curl and slide its way into unsuspecting lungs and cause all sorts of bad things to happen.

So what actually happened there? Overnight hundreds, if not thousands of formerly legal smokers suddenly became illegal “under-age” smokers, which could only mean of course that the tobacco control industry could scream and shout about The Children™ being at risk. But who put them there in the first place? Oh that’s right. They did.

Now of course, we are seeing the US doing exactly the same thing, raising the legal age of smoking from 18 to 21. Which, if and when passed (some States have already passed legislation) will move a group of formerly legal smokers into the under-age bracket, thereby increasing “youth smoking”. Such a wonderful conflict there.

OK sure, the raise in minimum age in the UK may have been one cause for the rates to decline, though I doubt it was the sole cause. Thing is, prior to 2007 the legal definition of being an adult (for smoking) was 16. Did those in public health not stop and think, “why are they starting” ? My guess is not really. Instead they pushed on and raised the legal age of sale to 18, meaning that those who were legal were forced to either:

  • Quit smoking (with or without aid)
  • Buy from the black-market
  • Buy from retailers illegally

Thing is, these folks still fervently believe that many who start smoking regret it. It’s like me taking a swig of coffee then immediately regretting it – apparently. Utter balderdash. I didn’t regret starting smoking, and I’m pretty sure that most of the so-called 80% that wish they’d never started didn’t either. There may be some that, after a while may regret the choice to start but I highly doubt it is anywhere near 80%.

What we have is a generalised rule of “being an adult” as being at the age of 18, though this is likely more a socialised concept than a legal one, but legal definitions for certain areas such as gambling, voting, smoking, driving – all of which are seen to be a socialised variant of the ritualistic coming-of-age ceremonies found in other cultures.

Isn’t the term “adult” reference to being “emotionally and mentally mature”, or “a person who has reached the age of majority” – both indicating maturity. As in being able to make informed decisions for themselves without being prodded and poked into a particular thought pattern.

Thing is, the State doesn’t particularly like folks on the crossover between adolescence and maturity making their own decisions, the State views this group as particularly “vulnerable” and unable to make their own choices. Yet they continue to preach that “education is key” and other mantras such as “providing accurate information”.

Why not focus on being truthful and educational in the information given to youth instead of nannying them into their safe-spaces. Sadly, that wouldn’t fit with the public health rhetoric, so instead it’s bans, more age restrictions and nannying.

I have no problem if an adult (either the socialised interpretation or legal one) decides “Hey, fuck this I’m going to have a smoke” – they’ve made their choice, especially as there is so much focus in telling folk how “bad” smoking is, the person that decides to smoke anyway deserves a little credit for making an adult decision.

If the State wanted to really help then they would look at ways of persuasion rather than blatant coercion. Offer the carrot instead of the stick.

But then, it has never been about health it has always been about control.

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